With over 1000 factories spread across 130 hectares, the Defu Industrial Estate, like many others before it, sits relatively undisturbed, almost obscured even from the surrounding neighbourhoods of Ubi and Hougang Ave 3/Lorong Ah Soo.
Since 1978, the area, which was once a swampland surrounded by attap-hut kampungs, has welcomed many relocated manufacturing and labour intensive industries from places such as Jalan Lobak, Jalan Anggerek, and Jalan Pemimpin. Till this day, it consists of a myriad of industries ranging from food processing factories to timber workshops and automobile repair centres.
It would be strange to compare industrial estates such as the one in Defu with modern self-sustainable industrial parks like Biopolis and Maple Tree Business City. Yet just like how these business parks have added integrated living amenities and facilities for the employees, the term ‘estate’ in places like Defu arose because of the desire to provide easy access for workers to and fro from their factories to their homes.
A walk around the area reveals many industries long forgotten, and many more that are simply shun away from in Singapore today. Truth be told I never knew such heavy industries like scrapyards, gas tank factories and large warehouses that contain items I can’t even make out, exist somewhere so close to where I’ve lived all my life.
Over the next 20 years, the Defu Industrial Estate is set to transform into Defu Industrial City and Bedok Food City as part of the HDB’s ongoing Industrial Redevelopment Programme (IRP). The move will see the estate acquire an additional 1.7million sqm of space for industries such as banking, biomedical and infocommunications.
Industrial estates like these certainly aren’t as pretty or even memorable enough for us to get all nostalgic about. Yet perhaps therein lies that need for diversity in understanding the symbols of the beginnings and progression of our country along the way.